The first submitter at the Waitangi Tribunal's urgent hearing of Maori freshwater and geothermal claims has challenged Prime Minister John Key's assertion that no-one owns the water in New Zealand's rivers and lakes.
The Tribunal is hearing two claims that - if successful - may see it recommending the Government call a halt to its plan to sell shares in Mighty River Power later this year until underlying issues of Maori customary right and interests in water and geothermal resources are addressed.
Mr Key this morning repeated his view that the claims lack merit because no one owns freshwater in New Zealand.
However Taipari Munro, of the Whatariri Trustees in a submission setting out grievances about the use of water from Poroti Springs 20km southwest of Whangarei, disagreed.
While he said local authorities and the Environment Court clearly shared the Prime Minister's view, when it came to the springs, "I don't accept what the Prime Minister says".
"As long as my people are standing on the earth, I'll not accept that."
Mr Taipari was questioned by Tibunal historian Timothy Castle on why he was seeking redress via the claims today.
Mr Taipari said that was because his trust had been shut out of key decision about the use of water from the springs for decades.
"Nobody else is giving us a hearing. We're treated like we don't matter.. .we are like flies on the wall."
Mr Munro said against the wishes of the trust, the pristine water from the springs was being used irrigate local orchards and wash down cowsheds when there was river water nearby available for that purpose.
The hearing at Waiwhetu Marae began with a mihi from Maanu Paul, co-chair of the Maori Council which is leading the challenge.
In that speech he expressed concern that the panel hearing submissions had to many pale faces and not enough Maori.
The panel will continue to hear submissions this week and early next week. It will break on Tuesday and Wednesday before recommencing for deliberations next Thursday and Friday. It is expected to produce its report before the end of the month.
- APNZBy Adam Bennett Email Adam